The Alberta Party leadership race is shaping up to be one of the most civil campaigns in recent memory. Following a debate in Edmonton described as “mild-mannered and polite” by the Edmonton Journal, Thursday’s meet and greet continued in the same fashion.
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, Calgary MLA Rick Fraser, and energy lawyer Kara Levis are in the running to replace party leader Greg Clark. All three candidates spoke highly of each other at the local event, something Mandel says is reflective of what members want to see.
“This is a party of civility. I think one of the things that so many Albertans have told me is they don’t like the bantering and the nastiness of politics as it exists today; Albertans really like to see a very proper and polite way of dealing with issues.”
While they may like each other, the candidates are divided on some issues. Mandel says he wouldn’t support a provincial sales tax unless it went to a referendum, but Levis argues it’s a tactic that should be looked at further to increase Alberta’s revenues.
“That is the big, bold idea that I think people are ready for; it’s what we need to put our province before politics and make sure we’re on a good footing. Right now we’ve been dependent on resource royalties for too long.”
Fraser says the sales tax conversation is a fair one to have, but adds small businesses are already worried about the carbon tax increasing.
“I think right now the time is to figure out how can we encourage growth in our small businesses and corporations to create jobs, because if you expand the tax base, you’re going to create more revenue from that tax base, rather than adding on taxes to a smaller tax base.”
All three agree that in order for the Alberta Party to do well in the 2019 election, it must continue to grow. To do so will take going door-to-door and having as many candidates as possible in contested ridings.
While there are some issues emerging in the race so far, it appears much of the choice for members will come down to their perception of each candidate’s experience and reputation. As a former MLA and health minister, Mandel hopes that works in his favour.
“Being the mayor of Edmonton for nine years, I learned a great deal about how to manage large institutions. I had a reasonably good reputation when I left; some liked me, some didn’t, but I did okay and I think that I can bring a sense of stability to the party.”
Fraser feels similarly, having been elected to the legislature as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2012. He left the United Conservative Party after the merger, and sat as an independent until the end of 2017.
“I’ve been able to build relationships, even within the government, to get work done in my own community. There was a shortage of schools [in Calgary-South East]; working with the government that I was a part of, and even the current government, we’ve been able to get 15 new school projects that are almost completed.”
Conversely, Levis argues her lack of a connection to a ruling party puts her at an advantage.
“I bring an energy and enthusiasm to this role that I don’t think the other two can duplicate… I bring that fresh new approach that really puts the province before politics and can throw out that political playbook and make sure that we’re doing something new and fresh for our province.”
Levis co-founded the Calgary-based non-profit Ask Her, which is dedicated to encouraging more women candidates to get involved in politics. She has also set a goal of seeing 150 Alberta Party candidates and 20,000 members in 2019.
The deadline to become a member and vote for the next leader is noon on February 12th. Preferential voting will run online from February 25 to 27th.